Tim Hortons CMO Hope Bagozzi on the making of Timbiebs

Justin Bieber’s new Timbiebs won’t be in stores until the end of the month, but it already feels like Tim Hortons has scored one of the biggest Canadian brand wins of the year.

The announcement generated huge media coverage—every outlet from CBC to BuzzFeed, Hypebeast and People had posts on it by late yesterday—and of course Bieber himself made three different posts to his 203 million followers on Instagram.

With that kind of early hype, combined with some charming advertising, the special edition Timbits—and yet unrevealed merch—seem almost guaranteed to be big sellers. But this kind of partnership will do more for Tim Hortons than just move Timbits said Tim Hortons CMO Hope Bagozzi.

The Message spoke with Bagozzi late Wednesday afternoon to ask her about how this all happened and what it could do for the brand.

This was not part of some long-term strategy to find a new celebrity pitch person, she said. The starting point was Bieber taking to Instagram late in 2019 to complain about the coffee cup lids Tim Hortons had introduced earlier that year. “He hated it,” said Bagozzi.

But rather than view that angry post as brand damage, Tim Hortons saw a brand opportunity. Yes Bieber was complaining, but it was because he was passionate about the brand. Tim Hortons reached out to his team, and they started a conversation about doing something together—leading to a video meeting in the pandemic’s early days.

The first meeting: “We were talking to his people. It was myself with a few of my team, all women and a lot of his team are women. And so of course in the early days of COVID all we’re talking about is our bad hair… All of a sudden this little black circle appears with a phone number, and we just keep talking about hair and next thing he turns on his camera and says ‘Oh my God, if I have to listen to you guys talk about hair anymore…’

“I was flabbergasted because I didn’t know he was going to join us. So then he started talking about Tims and how much he loved the brand… So that was how it started.”

Have you talked to him since? “He’s spoken obviously with our staff and some of the members of the team [during] the development process. But that was my only conversation directly with him.”

What could this do for the brand: Certainly Tim Hortons hopes to sell a lot of Timbiebs, but this is about more than that, she said. “It’s this idea of brand love, and that someone like Justin—who is a proud Canadian and loves Tim’s—wanted to work with us. So that, I think, is what it does for the brand. It shows people love us. We can be playful, we can be contemporary, we can try new things, we can appeal to a whole new generation of guests. And I think that’s much bigger than just some Timbit flavors.”

So it’s not about attracting younger people to the brand? “I think it will, but we didn’t start out with that in mind. We started out with: He loves the brand and he wants to do something with us. We think Canadians of all ages will be excited by this, and love it. And at the same time, if it brings in a guest that’s a bit younger and we haven’t been as relevant to in the past, amazing!”

Is the advertising different? In a way, the ad follows the “Real People” creative framework Tim Hortons has had for a couple of years now, said Bagozzi. Bieber is a real person who really loves the brand, but what’s different is that rather than have him talk earnestly about how much he loves Tim Hortons, the brand and agency partner Gut went for laughs instead, putting him in a scene and setting with an actor.

It’s meant to be funny and charming, even though most of the ad wasn’t scripted. “All the stuff that he did, like with the hockey helmet, that was completely ad-libbed,” said Bagozzi. “And we think you can see that it comes across pretty natural because it was pretty spontaneous.”

(See the ads below in both English and French, the latter of which has Bieber delivering decidedly fewer lines.)

Before Justin, there was Shawn: This is actually Tim Hortons’ second collaboration with a Canadian popstar in the last couple of years, following a 2019 campaign with Shawn Mendes that included an ad and limited edition cups featuring his image. “What we wanted to do with Justin is something even deeper,” said Bagozzi. “When we were sitting and talking with Justin, we sort of said right from the outset, ‘Let’s make something together.'”

Will there be other stuff with Justin? “We certainly hope so,” said Bagozzi, declining to say more (though we tried). “I have some some thoughts about it, but nothing to share just yet,” she said. “We definitely have had conversations about doing more.”

What’s been the best moment of this for you? The surprise appearance on that first call was pretty incredible, she said. But more than that, it’s been how genuinely invested Bieber was in the whole process.  “That’s just a gift,” she said. “When you get somebody who loves a brand so much and is so all-in—he was in on picking the flavours, he was in on the design of the packaging, the box itself. He was all-in on the commercial and putting it out there, being excited about it on his social network…  I think the best part of it is a true spirit of us in it together.”

David Brown